2015 in movies

I started keeping track of the films I watched in 2015. It started off with a desire to organise the list of films I wanted to watch, and a way to keep track of the ones I had. I was recommended Letterboxd as a means to this end, and have found it to be superb.

So, I can tell you that in 2015 I watched 113 films – 77 of them for the first time. This included 9 films featuring Alan Rickman, 6 films directed by Richard Linklater, and one terrible movive entitled The 12 Dogs of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue.

A lot of the films I watched were from a few years back – catching up on classics, the big films of the last couple of years that are now kicking about on DVD, and other recommendations and TV movies. Amongst these, and indeed amongst all the films of any age I saw this year, my favourite has to be Magnolia. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 masterpiece of interwoven stories, long brooding shots, superb rhythm and captivating characters living contrasting city lives. Despite being over three hours long, I didn’t want it to finish a single minute early – and that’s saying something.

Amongst the year’s cinema releases, Birdman was my favourite. I have a thing for long, unbroken steadicam shots – and this film is essentially one extended shot of this type. Combined with a fascinating glimpse behind theatrical scenes and a powerful performance from Michael Keaton, then the film is not just one-of-a-kind, but darn good as well.

Closely following on the heels of Birdman are the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road (beautifully audacious action movie with fresh characters, minimum annoying exposition, and no apologies) and Whiplash (superb tension for such a character-driven movie, thanks largely to J K Simmons) – while the latest Bond and Mission:Impossible installments left me underwhelmed. In terms of older movies then I’m glad to have finally seen superb titles such as Captain Phillips, Drive, and 12 Angry Men. It’s good to play catchup.

I also made a start on watching old Hitchcock movies at the end of the year, and I’m sure that will continue into 2015. One of the most enjoyable film series of the year, though, has to be Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy – I watched them back-to-back in a single day and loved the dialogue, the characters, and the realism of the simple settings. I’ll be back to see them plenty, I’m sure.

You can see my full 2015 in film review over at Letterboxd – including ranked lists, reviews and ratings for all the films I saw last year. For now, though, I’m off to grab a DVD.

2014 in books

Goodreads tells me that I read 35 books in 2014. It was nice, since my studies finished in November 2013, to rediscover reading for pleasure and offer my brain an alternative to podcasts on the daily commute to Swindon.

I ploughed and plodded through all sorts of stories – some better than others. Early in the year I bought a bargain boxset of James Bond books (which were initially quite good, but have descended into the silly extremes of the worst films), and have been interspersing my heavier reads with Fleming’s famous spy. I read the Hunger Games trilogy, made a start on the Dexter series, and enjoyed the first novel by Steven Camden. I also got round to reading Iain Banks, and I’m really glad I did. Some authors have just been on my ‘to-read’ list for too long.

I remain a fan of non-fiction, and love a good autobiography. Interesting people’s stories tend to be great to read, no matter what you think of the person, yet I even surprise myself when I see that my only two five-star books of the year were autobiographical works of Stephen Fry and Jeremy Vine. Still, they were indeed insightful reads, and well worth a look if you like that sort of thing. Elsewhere on the non-fiction shelves, I finally read some Bill Bryson (though the first of his I read, Notes From A Big Country, isn’t up to the standard of others) and was fascinated by the stories of Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth. So much so, in fact, that a friend got him to sign a copy of his follow-up photo book for me. What a birthday present!

At the other end of the scale, I wasn’t really gripped with John Le Carre’s The Constant Gardener, and David Wong’s John Dies At The End was just too surreal and disjointed for my tastes. Still, they were both worth a try. Let nobody say my reading habits are too samey.

I figure at my current rate of reading I’ve got enough unread books on my bookshelf to last me two more years, yet I still like buying them, and there’s nothing like a browse through a charity shop to cheer the soul. So, my ‘to-read’ list grows faster than I can shrink it – but I’ll never be too well stocked to hear your suggestions. Something you liked, something you’d think I like, or just something fascinatingly different. You know what to do!

Cat stories and other books

Spotted in the British Library gift shop. I resisted.